As he considered running for a seat on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board, Jason Feldman knew he would probably need more than the required 100 citizen signatures.
The local parent figured several names would be disqualified by county officials for a variety of reasons, but he thought 121 would be enough. Forty were nullified.
Those rulings led to the disqualification of Feldman as a candidate, which led to the cancellation of the SMMUSD board election, which has led to concern among some community members about the entire process.
“Ultimately the responsibility is mine, but I do feel my being disqualified was unfair and a disservice to voters,” Feldman said. “I was told I would have time to obtain supplemental signatures if necessary. As the deadline approached, I inquired about obtaining additional signatures, but was denied that opportunity.
“The City took their time sending the signatures to the County and the County took their time in validating the signatures, leaving me no opportunity to cure any problems as the deadline had already passed by the time the determination was made.”
Feldman was planning to be a challenger in a Board of Education election that was scheduled for November. The election was canceled, however, because the number of qualified candidates (three) now equals the number of available seats.
Incumbent board members Maria Leon-Vazquez and Ralph Mechur will remain on the seven-member governing body, and Jon Kean will replace retiring board member Jose Escarce.
Mechur, Leon-Vazquez and Kean will be officially named to the board at the entity’s meeting Dec. 15, when it will select a new president and vice president for the year, according to SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker.
The school district has the right to cancel a board election if the number of candidates does not exceed the number of seats to be filled, according to Santa Monica City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren. Her office contracts with the county clerk’s office to review and verify signatures.
Following Feldman’s disqualification, SMMUSD officials consulted with the county Office of Education and the City of Santa Monica, which handles elections for the school district, before deciding to cancel the election, Pinsker said. The district, which had budgeted $200,000 for the election, is now only on the hook for small costs associated with paperwork processing.
Feldman, a Santa Monica-based lawyer who has lived in the district for nearly 10 years and who has two young daughters in the school system, said he was surprised to hear that the election was being canceled considering he was told a day earlier that he could run as a write-in candidate despite his disqualification.
“I was also disappointed for Santa Monica and Malibu voters,” he said. “I think it is better for voters to decide instead of by appointment by current school board members.”
Feldman said he didn’t have time to challenge his disqualification because county officials returned their review of his collected signatures after the appropriate deadline.
Feldman entered the race with the goal of helping the district improve outcomes for all students, particularly those with special needs, and trying to close longstanding academic achievement gaps.
“I also hoped to help Santa Monica and Malibu stay united and cure the annual budget shortfall to set the district on a course of success for the future,” he said. “I look forward to serving the community in another way.”